At Coulee Flats Dairy, Case has built a cattle farm inside of a corn farm. And they both benefit. They share and recycle water and the corn feeds the cows while the cows fertilize the corn. It comes down to Case caring about how he raises his crops and his cattle.
“This was a row crop farm. Now it’s still a row crop farm, where we also produce milk and beef. It doesn’t get more sustainable than that.” - Case VanderMeulen
Case VanderMeulen was born to be a dairy farmer. His dream took him from his native Holland, where his brother still runs the family dairy, to the Upper Left, U.S.A. From working on dairy farms in California, he made his way up to the Yakima Valley where he leased dairies and grew his herd.
By the mid-2000s all of his experience and passion for dairy farming led him to seek out an opportunity to build a farm from scratch. When he found the place he could imagine his cows thriving, his next step was outreach to the local communities of Mesa and Connell. His goal from the beginning was to make the dairy an asset, not a burden to the area. While the dairy is designed to house thousands of cows with plenty of room to move around and keep clean, and all farms at different times of the year can emit smells that local coffee shops, banks, churches and their visitors don’t appreciate. The dairy’s location and prevailing wind direction prevents those impacts on neighbors. The dairy is less than two miles off a safe state highway, which is ideal for feed, milk, and supply trucks to get in and out quickly and safely, without an impact on local traffic.
To this day, Case welcomes dialog and feedback from the communities he and the dairy call home. He’d never boast it, but in 2019 the Connell Chamber of Commerce named this Dutch immigrant – new to a community where multi-generational farms and businesses are the norm – as their Man of the Year for his community service and leadership.
To Case, building a dairy farm right in the middle on an existing farm just made sense from a natural resources perspective. Instead of just watering crops, the water is first drawn to provide cows drinking water, for cooling the milk while it waits to be shipped by tanker trucks each day, and to flush out and clean the milking parlor and alley ways where cattle line up to eat. In the heat of the summer, water drips over cows moving to and from the parlor to help keep them cool.
The water used on the dairy side of the farm then pipes to lined lagoons where it is held until it is used for irrigation water and to fertilize crops during the growing season. Those crops become part of the ration fed to their cows and the cycle repeats. Maintaining the most careful use of water, efficient use of land, and keeping cattle healthy is what makes Coulee Flats Dairy built for sustainability.
Coulee Flats Dairy operations manager Ricardo Garcia stands in a pen of about 20 Holstein bull calves while one sniffs and butts his head into his leg. Ricardo explains this pen of bull calves will be raised here until they are about 350 pounds, when they are sold to another farm to be raised for beef. The next row of pens is home to heifer calves that will stay on the dairy to grow and become part of the milking herd.
“Our mission whether it’s a bull or heifer calf is to give it the best start it can have. We designed their living conditions, vaccine protocols and how we feed them with only that in mind – to raise healthy cattle.” Says Ricardo, who has worked with VanderMeulen since 1996.
In fact, all of the supervisors at the dairy have worked with VanderMeulen for 10-20 years. The phrase “teamwork makes the dream work” isn’t a cat poster platitude for Case as a leader. He credits that approach and his team for achieving their scale and continuing to innovate.
“On a large farm, any small problem has the potential to become a big one if it isn’t solved. My crew understands that and I’m proud of the way we work together to not just solve problems, but do the best by our cows and the land by design.”
Washington's dairy community is an important contributor to our beef supply. While heifer (female) calves grow up to produce milk, bull (male) calves are raised for beef. These calves generally enter Backgrounding or Calf Ranches at an earlier age than the calves raised on rangeland at Cow/Calf Ranches.